The Air Force One holds legendary prestige across the sneaker world, whether you’re an impartial observer, a drop-date obsessive or a long-standing connoisseur – you cannot deny the impact this silhouette has had on sneaker culture.
The sneaker was designed in 1982 by Bruce Kilgore, Nike’s Director of Research and Development at the time, and the man who is also responsible for the K-Car. Yes, that’s right, the man behind the best selling athletic shoe of all time can also lay claim to one of the most standard motor vehicle designs in years. Boxy, and far from stylish – everything we don’t want in a shoe – so he put it in a car. But we digress. The Air Force 1 has gone on to be released in thousands of variations, although it’s nearly impossible to verify the actual number. In recent memory, standout editions include the COMME des GARÇONS “Emoji” edition, and A-COLD-WALL*’s bespoke variation.
To commemorate the shoe’s 35th anniversary, we’ve compiled some things you may or may not know about Nike’s best selling shoe…
The Original Six
Upon its release in 1982, Nike enlisted six NBA players to introduce the Air Force 1. Now known as the “original six,” the group was comprised of Moses Malone (Philadelphia 76ers), Mychal Thompson (Portland Trail Blazers), Bobby Jones (Philadelphia 76ers), Calvin Natt (Portland Trail Blazers), Jamal Wilkes (L.A. Lakers), and Michael Cooper (L.A. Lakers). To endorse and market the new shoe, each of the six players were the first to receive the AF1 in the OG white/grey colourway.
The Air Force One has its own song (and no it’s not that one by Nelly, we’ll get to that later). In 2007, Kanye West, Nas, Rakim and KRS-One came together to record the track “Classic (Better Than I’ve Ever Been).” Anchored around the topic of timelessness, they touch on the AF1 a number of times throughout; Rakim even spits “I came in the door, became one of y’all’s leader / In a fresh pair of Air Force 1 sneakers.”
The track was performed live at the AF1’s 25th anniversary party, and was aired on MTV2. Released on Nike Records, all proceeds from the single went towards youth leadership programmes as part of the Force4Change Fund.
The AF1 has had its fair share of airtime on our screens. Seen in countless music videos, and on the feet of superstars across the world, the shoe was brought to the forefront once again when it became the star of an episode of HBO’s Entourage in 2006. This episode saw the AF1 get a special treatment courtesy of fictional artist Fukijama, which Turtle rushes to cop at real-life boutique Undefeated. Regardless of the invented nature of this AF1 collab, it remains a big topic of discussion among sneakerheads.
Don’t Forget About Dre
A stalwart ambassador of the AF1, rumour has it Dr Dre dons a box fresh pair of all white 1s every day. Speaking to Nice Kicks back in 2013, The Game informed us that Dre treats them like socks, one wear and they’re done.
The official name of the lace medallion featured on the AF1 (as well as many other silhouettes) is a “Deubré.” This was first coined by Nike footwear designer, Damon Clegg in 1994 and spelt “doobrie”. Speaking his native Glasgow dialect, this word is akin to a “thingy” or “whatchamacallit.” The term caught on and underwent a few different spellings until Nike officially entered it into their designer phrasebook as “Deubré.”
The AF1 is the highest-selling athletic shoe of all time, bringing in an estimated $800 million USD each year in revenue. Considering the shoe is in its 35th year, that’s a rough turnover of $28,000,000,000 (yes that is 28 billion!) since its inception.
Give Me Two Pairs
In 2003 MTV, MTV2 and VH1 collectively banned the video for “Air Force Ones” by St. Louis rapper, Nelly, due to it being deemed too close to an advertisement, given that it included highly excessive product placement. The hook featured Nelly spitting “I said give me two pairs / (cause) I need two pairs / So I can get to stomping in my air force ones / (Big boys) stomping in my air force ones.”
Originally the AF1 Deubré was slightly more circular than those we are used to today, and first featured an inscription reading “AF-1 82.” On the 25th anniversary of the shoe, in 2007, the Deubré underwent a redesign, becoming more rectangular and for some time encased in white plastic over the original pewter material.
DJ Clark Kent
We can’t talk about AF1s without mentioning one of the silhouette’s most die-hard fans, DJ Clark Kent. His sneaker collection is the stuff of legends, and boasts over 6,000 pairs of 1s, hardly surprising considering he has reportedly spent of half a million dollars on them in his life time. In fact, his collection is so vast that if each pair of his Air Force 1s were lined up one after the other, they’d stretch the length of the Golden Gate Bridge.
Silver Screen Debut
Having touched on songs featuring the Air Force 1, as well as TV appearances, we should also mention there is an official AF1 documentary. In 2010 Nike commissioned agency 360Creative alongside director Thibaut de Longeville to immortalize the shoe on screen. The film was premiered at NYC’s Apollo Theater in the context of Nike’s first “World Basketball Festival.” The doc was screened at exclusive events across the globe and shown on MTV2 during the network’s 1 Night Only special and presented as a series of episodes on Nike’s dedicated 1Thology website.
With the Air Force 1 steadily conquering the world, Nike saw it fit to pay homage to one of their largest audiences, China. The AF1’s popularity here can be largely attributed to the country’s fascination with basketball, with many of their athletes favouring the AF1 in its early days.
The “Nai Ke” range was born, comprised of premium leathers and carefully chosen accents of colour; “Nai Ke” retros have gained a cult following amongst collectors. The defining feature of these Nai Ke releases is naturally Nike in Chinese characters, “耐克(Nai Ke),” wrapping the heel of the shoe.
US sneakerheads have had the pleasure of rocking the AF1 since its first release in 1982, however across the pond in mainland Europe, it was a different story. Take London for example, where the Air Force 1 now sits proudly in the windows of countless sporting goods stores. You’d be forgiven for assuming the UK had had the pleasure of the 1 for just as long. However, the Air Force 1 didn’t make its way to Europe until 13 years after its initial release.
If you’re into your Air Forces you’ll no doubt be familiar with the moniker “Uptown.” For those less acquainted, let us elaborate. This nickname originated due to the popularity of Air Forces in the uptown neighbourhoods of New York City (most notably Harlem), arguably the place where the AF1 first became a true urban staple. Recently, A$AP Bari paid homage to the legacy of the Air Force 1 with his own Harlem-inspired VLONE version.
With several undeniable similarities, it’s clear to see where BAPE drew their inspiration from for the Bapesta silhouette. So why has Nike never challenged them over this? Proving their worth as one of the most intelligent brands in the world, Nike opted to buy shares in the Japanese brand rather than file a lawsuit. Clever, huh?
Nigo, the streetwear maestro behind BAPE, said of the Bapesta/AF1 comparison in a 2008 interview with Complex “I’d like to say that other brands doing BAPE knockoffs shows that the brand is recognized and desired… But in reality, it’s really annoying to have to deal with it.” Late last year, Ronnie Fieg refreshed the Bapesta with his own made-in-Portugal editions.
Better With Age
According to Matt Powell, an analyst at SportsOneSource, a research and data firm in Charlotte, N.C, the AF1 had its most popular year in 2005. Selling an estimated 12 million pairs that year, with the following two years hitting figures of approximately 10-11 million, for a shoe that turned 25 at that time, the Air Force One truly speaks for itself, cementing its place as the culture’s King Pin.
Now we’ve discussed some of the lesser-known areas of AF1 culture, be sure to check out this custom “Flowerbomb” Air Force 1.
- Main & Featured Image: Nike
- Words: Rob Cupper